Effect of Gun Culture and Firearm Laws on Gun Violence and Mass Shootings in the United States: A Multi-Level Quantitative Analysis

By Lemieux, Frederic | International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, January-June 2014 | Go to article overview

Effect of Gun Culture and Firearm Laws on Gun Violence and Mass Shootings in the United States: A Multi-Level Quantitative Analysis


Lemieux, Frederic, International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences


Introduction

Government officials and public opinion have been seriously challenged over the past decades regarding the occurrence and frequency of public mass shootings in the United States. A report published by the Congressional Research Service (Bjelopera et al., 2013) estimates that at least 78 public mass shootings transpired between 1983 and 2012. Together, these violent incidents have resulted in more than 540 casualties and injured approximately 480 persons. However, these mass shootings are not equally distributed over time and there is indication that in fact, the frequency of this type of incident has accelerated in the past five years and broadly shows a sharp positive trend per decade since the early 20th century. Despite the gruesome and overwhelming consequences, mass shootings are now becoming the subject of a major debate on a new national law to address the problem.

Federal agencies, local law enforcement, police officer associations, public safety groups, medical associations, disaster response and public health preparedness groups, as well as academics are invested in looking at public mass shootings to better understand how to effectively prevent these violent tragedies. In December 2012, after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the debate on gun control reached a peak with the creation of a presidential task force charged with recommending solutions to the problem of public mass shootings and, more broadly, to gun violence. During these discussions, two main positions were opposing each other. First, the status quo is argued for the protection of the Second Amendment and the assertion that gun violence in America is mainly a problem of violent culture with calling for more situational solutions (e.g., armed guards in public places, school, etc.). The other side of debate calls for more enforcement and greater restriction for gun accessibility (background checks) and the restriction of certain types of military style weapons and large ammunition capacity (Faria, 2013).

These two opposing positions on gun control certainly have theoretical foundations, and the purpose of this paper is to scrutinize each side's merits through a multi-level approach. In the next sections, the nature of mass shootings will be addressed along with the literature related to gun control, gun violence, and gun culture. The methodology section explains how information related to this research was collected, structured, and analyzed. The analysis section examines the relationship between gun control laws, gun culture, and gun violence in general as well as with mass shooting in particular. This analytical design is based on a multi-level, cross-sectional analysis, which includes the macro level (cross-national comparison), the meso level (cross-state comparison), and the micro level (case comparison). The paper also discusses the implications for future policies.

Review of Literature

Understanding Public Mass Shootings

First, it is crucial to identify and define mass shootings and mass shooters. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an active shooter is defined as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area." In its definition, DHS notes that "in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims."2 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides a more operational categorization where public mass shootings happen when four or more people are killed by one or more murderer(s) in a particular location with no cooling-off period between the murders. The FBI distinguishes public mass killing from spree killing in which one murderer (or more) kills several persons in different geographical areas with no cooling-off period. The spree killing and mass shootings differ from the serial murder because of a lack of cooling-off period and because of the fact that serial killers rarely kill more than one person at a time. …

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